Archbishop Dolan began his homily with thanking a multitude of people, from Bishop Clark for inviting him to the jubilarians to those who planned the Mass and quite a few others in between. When he commented on the “beautifully renovated church,” my pen came to a complete stop – then a loud clap of thunder could be heard. Can you spell theophany?
“The jubilarians are an example of fidelity.” Archbishop Dolan spoke of fidelity, faithfulness to ones’ vocation, adding that whenever there’s a jubilee anniversary, he likes to ask what helped fidelity over the years.
Archbishop Dolan said Bishop Clark was his spiritual director and confessor while he was a seminarian in Rome. He invited the congregation to show appreciation to Bishop Clark, which became sustained applause.
The diocese of Rochester is familiar to him, Archbishop Dolan said. He said he studied Fr. Robert McNamara’s writing on Bishop McQuaid. “If anyone thinks rifts and tensions are new, they don’t know Bishop McQuaid,” Archbishop Dolan said. His interest in the diocese of Rochester continued because of Bishop Fulton Sheen. Archbishop Dolan added a third reason of being metropolitan archbishop and said he’s delighted to be here.
Unless a grain of wheat dies….
With that, Archbishop Dolan launched into the meat of his homily, addressing first the priests. Attention focused on Jesus, quoting today’s Gospel: unless the grain of wheat dies…. He said the Passion and death of Jesus is the supreme example and related it to each and every single Eucharist.
Widening his address to the congregation, Archbishop Dolan said we are enriched by other brilliant icons of the martyrs. He focused on martyr and patron of the Rochester diocese, St. John Fisher. Archbishop Dolan spoke about St. John Fisher’s excellence as teacher, simplicity as bishop, and heroic virtue (and also St. Thomas More, who shares this feast day). Archbishop Dolan then summarized from Butler’s Lives of the Saints the account of St. John Fisher sent to the Tower for not taking the oath to the King Henry VIII and the saint’s death after years of persecution and ill health.
Archbishop Dolan quoted Bishop Sheen on the priesthood with a phrase that he repeated several times during the rest of his homily. I didn’t quite catch the phrase and indeed, had difficulty for the rest of the homily. Whatever it was started with a dry throat and need to clear my throat, progressing to coughing with irritated, teary eyes and by the end of the homily, difficulty breathing. I completely missed the concluding comments of the homily, but the last one I noted was a powerful closing note.
Back to Bishop Sheen who said that the priest must pour himself out for the people. Archbishop Dolan addressed the priests, quoting Bishop Sheen who said, “We may be in danger of losing our priesthood” because of the modern focus on self-fulfillment, etc. Archbishop Dolan then quoted (Burkhart? — and Burkhart?) applying the Eucharist to the priesthood: God takes us and breaks us and gives us to the people.
Archbishop Dolan told of a meeting with some seminarians when the Gospel of the day was the one where the mother of the sons of Zebedee asked Jesus to have her sons sit on Jesus’ right and left hand. Archbishop Dolan said his question to the seminarians was: Do you want to be like the sons of Zebedee or the son of Mary?
A scene from the 1953 version of Titanic was another anecdote that Archbishop Dolan told. He said that the priest had an opportunity to get in a lifeboat, then heard there were men pinned below. “For God’s sake, don’t go down there!” one of the ship staff said. “For God’s sake, I must go down there,” the priest replied.
Archbishop Dolan spoke of a parish or chapel whose altar was purposely made from a butcher’s block.
The last two anecdotes (at least that I noted) focused on perseverance despite frailty. When Archbishop Dolan was in Rome, he was able to offer to a married couple the opportunity to see Pope John Paul II. The wife said yes; the husband preferred to stay in the restaurant. Later, the couple saw Pope John Paul II at Mass. The husband later told Archbishop Dolan how powerfully moved he’d been by Pope John Paul II, specifically by the drooling (part of the Parkinson’s disease). The husband was moved by the drooling, wiping away the drool, and repeated perhaps a hundred times during the Mass.
Archbishop Dolan’s priest friend had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. One day when about to give the homily at Mass, his friend with multiple sclerosis began to feel unsteady. He said, “I’m okay but feel a bit unsteady; I’d better stand here and cling to the altar.” Those in attendance said it was the best description of the priesthood: “I’m okay but unsteady, but I can cling to the altar.”